Tuesday, January 27, 2009

EntropyPawsed uses "A Pattern Language"

When we purchased our property, the house was an unfinished shell. We considered tearing it down – its long axis runs north/south, rather than east/west, the best passive solar orientation. We eventually decided to work with the existing structure so as not to waste the wood products already used. To do this, we knew we needed some design guidance.

We utilized the book “A Pattern Language” by architect Christopher Alexander and others. By 2001 when we began designing our EntropyPawsed living space, this book seemed almost as if it were brought to us by destiny. Several years prior, as we first began exploring organic gardening, and then Permaculture, we had been given several introductions to the book: by a relative who was an architecture student; by several practitioners of Permaculture; and finally in Frank's Permaculture courses at the EcoVillage Training Center and Earthaven.

In our modern culture, unless we have specifically trained in design or architecture, most of us feel unable to undertake the design process without professional help. The beauty and strength of “A Pattern Language” is that it provides virtually all of the tools needed to design fully human living spaces. It really is as simple as sitting down with the book and giving it enough time and attention. We can still recall the feeling of personal empowerment that came as our design progressed.

While the patterns of construction described in the book are fascinating, they were never really worked out and accepted. We opted to go with a more standard “stick built” approach because it is easily accessible, and Frank felt most comfortable in implementing and enhancing the standard construction experience he had gained over the years.

We spent hours looking at the various inter-related patterns described in the book, and ended up using more than a dozen in our home. We found that using the “language” of these patterns helped us look holistically and systematically at what outcomes we wanted in our home: function, comfort, beauty, ease of maintenance.

Our primary pattern is “Farmhouse Kitchen.” We wanted the home to reflect the rural surroundings, be comfortable, and to function well as a place to transform garden produce into fresh and preserved food. Using the “Open Shelves” pattern in the kitchen saved the expense (and space) of cabinets. The “Cooking Layout” and “Sunny Counter” patterns also helped create comfortable, usable space.

Within the “Farmhouse Kitchen Pattern” we embedded the “Fire Circle.” The fire has always been a place where people gather for conversation and story telling. We very carefully considered the location and orientation of the wood stove. We wanted the “Fire Circle” to connect and function, without interfering, with the “Farmhouse Kitchen.” We also needed the stove to be centrally located for even heat distribution.

“The Intimacy Gradient” pattern helped us with the placement of various design elements in relationship to the flow into the cabin from the front door, with the more public spaces near the front of the house, progressing to the more private areas in the back.

Our home is just over 500 square feet. Dividing it into small rooms just didn't seem practical. The discovery of the “Alcoves” pattern was a real revelation. Instead of a bedroom, we have a “Bed Alcove, with a “Sleeping to the East”-facing window. Instead of a separate office space, we have a “Half-Private Office” in which we have our desk, computer and assorted (small) electronics. Between the bed alcove and office space we have a “Dressing Room,” which provides privacy when dressing and undressing and a place to store clothes. All of the patterns are nested within the primary “Farmhouse Kitchen”and give consideration to the “Intimacy Gradient.”

We used the “Warm Colors” pattern in a number of subtle ways. We painted the ceiling a very light, soft yellow. The plywood walls allow the natural wood grain to be seen, and have a clear finish with a slight red tint. Using windows to bring in “Light on Two Sides of Every Room” resulted in natural light reflecting off of almost all of the wood surfaces.

The true test of any design is the feedback provided by how we are feeling while being in the space. We are gratified to report that not only are we pleased with the result, but that visitors uniformly describe our home as “warm” and “inviting.”

Our ultimate goal was a comfortable, beautiful place with minimal adverse environmental impact. We think we succeeded. For us, “A Pattern Language” was a valuable tool assisting us to significantly downsize our environmental impact.

Pattern Language has a website, http://www.patternlanguage.com/

Visit the EntropyPawsed website, http://entropypawsed.org

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